Friday, February 29, 2008

The Week-est Link, February 29, 2008: Biblical Training Galore

1. If you have not ever checked out the site called "Biblical Training", you must. It has a treasure trove of theological resources, including full-length classes taught by a number of eminent scholars. For example, you could take a class on systematic theology from my father-in-law, Bruce Ware. Here's the thing: it's all free! And more than that, you won't have to take one of Dr. Ware's excruciating quizzes like I did. (I'm not sure which is better between the two.) In all seriousness, this is an incredible way to attain excellent theological training from your home without paying a cent. Check out the site, and pass along the word.

2. Did you know that actor Brad Pitt was raised a Southern Baptist? I personally was not aware of this. This is about the most celebrity gossip I'll ever dig into on this blog, but I did find this article interesting. Pitt's comments reveal a heart that is sadly turned against the idea of God as sovereign and worthy of His sovereignty. Anyway, the article provides an interesting factoid and a reason to pray for the actor and for the health and vibrant witness of Southern Baptist churches.

3. Another very helpful and challenging piece by theologian Russ Moore, this one on a "theology that bleeds". Dr. Moore evinces an Edwardsean ability to marry rich theology with expressive, moving language, and I think that this piece shows both of those traits and motivates its readers to become more passionate about the gospel. His focus on evangelism as the heart of theology is commendable and challenging, and I would encourage you to read the short piece.

4. An interesting conversation between 9Markers Jonathan Leeman and Greg Gilbert on social restoration and its relation to the ministry of the local church. They present the subject by means of an Instant Messenger-like conversation, which makes this thought-provoking piece fun and easy to read.

5. Have you heard of Fernando Ortega? If not, you should have. He makes rich music and uses it to express beauty and powerful theological truth. You could order just about any one of his cds and find it spiritually nourishing and musically enjoyable.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

When a Trailer Park is Just Right, Part Two: Responding to Thoughtful Comments on the Issue

I wasn't planning on writing more about this issue, but the comments from yesterday's post were so thoughtful that I thought it necessary to do so. To all who responded, I really appreciated your thoughtful comments. I'll interact with them briefly below in an edited form, and you (and others) can feel free to respond back.

Anonymous 1: "From a woman's perspective, I wouldn't care if we lived in a trailer, but I would feel very poor for the lack of my husband's time and energy at home if he was pouring himself into 2 jobs. I know provision is a big drive for men, but for women emotional security is more important than financial security. I don't care HOW we live, as long as it is together and the quality of our time together is real. When the focus becomes work for whatever reason, then the marriage relationship can so easily become a case of two ships passing in the night. I think the definition of provision needs to include spiritual and emotional provision, and centre less around money."

Anonymous friend, you make good points here. Please note that I would concur in not wanting to pit emotional security against financial security, and that I was not attempting to encourage men to do so. What you and I are saying is not unrelated. I think that you might have misread me such that you think that I am saying that a man should work as much as possible to provide as much possible because I understand this to be a man's role. This is not what I am saying. I am saying that I believe that Scripture calls a man to provide for his own. If he must tax himself to do so, then so be it. But I am nowhere encouraging men to work so much that they have little home life. No, a man should work hard such that his family has shelter and food and a certain level of comfort. These are the basic needs of life, and anyone who does not so provide for his family is worse than a pagan. (1 Tim. 5:8)

Depending on what a man does, this may mean some long hours, and that may in turn mean a loss of time with family. The basic needs of shelter and food are so significant to a biblical definition of manhood, though, that according to the Bible, this man is acting rightly, even if we can all agree that the situation is less than ideal. The "two jobs and a trailer" lifestyle is not the model, and I would hope that it would be the uncommon exception rather than the rule. It may, however, be necessary in some situations, and though that is regrettable on one level, the man who cares in such a way for his family is honoring God, though he must still strive with all his might to emotionally care for his family.

You and I have significant agreement which could be confused in this discussion. I actually explicitly encouraged men not to work in such a way that their home life was compromised. The ideal, as I can see it, is for a man to both provide well for his family and have significant time with them. A man should attain all the training he can, all the education he can, in order to fit himself for a vocation (or calling) that uses his God-given gifts and that enables him to meet his family's material needs while giving him much time to spend with them. He should then go out and work and meet his family's material needs but do so, ideally, in such a way that he can cherish, care for, and disciple his wife and raise his children in the fear and admonition of the Lord by means of a loving, gentle, courageous spirit.

Kyle E.: "How do you pursue your Ph.D. studies and uphold providing at the same time? I experience the tension between study and work right now too--I'm a 2nd year M.Div. at Trinity. Thanks!"

Kyle, how nice to get a comment from a fellow TEDS student. I appreciate it, and thanks for writing on this humble little slice of the web. The easy answer is this: there is no easy answer! For me, providing for my family to this point in my life has meant a pretty busy life. My MDiv at Southern Seminary was a whirlwind for my wife and me. We existed in that "non-ideal" realm I mentioned above. It was difficult, and there was no getting around that. At the same time, though, we did what we had to do. We needed to pay bills, put food on the table, and be able to save a bit for the future, and so I worked, and my wife worked, though she did so to supplement our income and not because she had to. I would have been happy for us to have less money and for her to be home, but she was fine with working at that time, and so she did.

Essentially, I worked seven days a week for a year and a half. Monday through Friday I had work and class (four of them, and I did the language-intensive track), Saturday I caught up on the homework I couldn't do most weeknights due to the need to spend time with my wife (and due also to my own exhaustion), and Sunday I did work in between church services. It was a blistering pace, and I thank the Lord that we are out of it. That's one of the realities of certain seasons of life like that which the MDiv brings for most of us seminarians--I don't really see any way to remove some level of difficulty and hardship. If you stretch it out, you're in school forever and you can't minister like you want to. If you speed it up, you put your family through the grinder (if, it could be hoped, for a brief time). I chose as the head of my home to go hard and fast through seminary, and though it was hard and less than ideal, I think it was the right choice.

My PhD and job are actually more manageable than my MDiv and job. I'm not sure that's normal, but that's how it worked out for us. Whatever taxing degree program one is in, though, one has to commit oneself as a man to working hard for the good of his family, to taking the load on his own shoulders, and not placing it on his wife's shoulders (particularly when kids enter the equation). For me and many friends I knew, that meant long nights, sleepy days, and less time than we would have liked with our dear families. In the end, though, one makes it out, and perhaps the next season is all the sweeter for what one has just come through. Maybe that is the Lord's gift to us.

Anon. 2: "I worked two full time jobs and lived in an apartment in an old building so that my wife could be a full time caregiver. If only she had considered me and her son to be more important than television and drugs, it might have been worth it."

Anonymous (number two), I am so sorry to hear this. I don't know if I know you, but this sounds like a heartbreaking situation. If you are a Christian, I can only say to you that your hard work was honorable to the Lord, and will be rewarded, I am sure, on the last day. If you are not a believer, I commend you for your commitment to your family, and would encourage you to consider another costly example of sacrificial love--the love of Christ. This love will save your soul even as it frees you to forgive those who have caused you great pain on this earth.

Thanks to the commenters. Please note that I do not present this matter as uncomplicated, as neat-and-clean. As the responders have noted, the duty of masculine provision will often involve seasons of difficulty and hardship. Sacrifices will perhaps be called for. God never promises us that doing the right thing means that our lives will be neat and clean. No, doing the right thing often means the opposite. Difficulty must not turn us away from truth, however. More than this, it must not turn us away from joyful service in God's name. Whatever comes, we must gloss all our work with the remembrance that what we do, we do for God. That may sometimes be our only reward, but that is all the reward we need, is it not?

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

When a Trailer Park is Just Right: On Manhood and the Duty to Provide

"A man who really gets Ephesians 5 is the kind of man who will be willing to work two jobs and live in a trailer to enable his wife to be the primary caregiver of his children."

This line comes from a recent blog post and CBMW journal contribution by Dr. Russ Moore. I appreciated Dr. Moore's post, entitled "Pastoral Leadership and the Gender Issue: What Does Courage Look Like?" Moore raised a number of good points in the brief post, but none affected me more than that made in the line quoted above. In our milieu, I would imagine that this comment would sound strange to many ears. Why on earth would anyone live in a trailer park if they don't (absolutely) have to? In a materialistic society (and a materialistic church, maybe?), there is perhaps no sharper ideological razor to be applied in making familial decisions than that of economic concerns. Ockham would (not) be proud.

What do I mean here? Simply this: many of us in American evangelicalism so prize material comfort that we will allow almost nothing to impede our pursuit of it. So, for example, when it comes down to determining such basic questions like where we will live and how we will live, we are often quite ready to sacrifice things like family time, home life, and discipleship with things like a nicer home, more cars, better accouterments. I am not against these things or a nice standard of living on their own terms, but I am against them when they compromise the quality of our family life. Somehow, we have allowed the culture to whisper into our ear and convince us that it is better to be wealthy--on whatever scale and by whatever measurement--than it is to be together. We don't realize in making this exchange that we have taken the culture and its ideals as our guide. Accordingly, we have left the Word and its wisdom behind. The Scripture teaches us that the things that truly matter cannot be measured in dollars and cents, even though many--the Proverbs famously groups the materialistic masses under the moniker "fool"--believe the opposite. They think, in their fallen condition, that it is actually better to have cars than laughs, toys than time, renovated bathrooms than healthy marriages. The result? Husbands and wives alike work themselves into the ground, and the children suffer and grow angry, and the family slowly falls apart, the cycle to be damningly repeated again a generation later.

It is in the backdrop of such tragedy that Dr. Moore makes his point, and that I concur. If we could accept a little less luxury, many of our families would know far more health than they do. If we would accept a lower standard of living, more of our mothers could mother, more of our children could flourish, and more of our churches could know a fresh level of quality by the investment of older women in the lives of young women. If we could reject the American "dream" of material prosperity and see a trailer-park or an apartment complex through gospel lenses, we would see that it is no horrible thing to live as poor people when we have a joyful, gospel-centered, God-glorifying family that pulses with love and hope. Nowhere do the biblical authors instruct us to see such circumstances as a curse. No, if God is the Lord of the home, and the husband and wife fill their roles, and the children obey their parents, then the family is rich, rich beyond the wildest dreams of the wealthy secularists up the street who has great wealth in the bank but tragically little in the heart.

Again, this is not to say that wealth is wrong. It is not, and some Christians have a great deal of it and do not allow it to compromise a healthy home. Sadly, though, many do allow earthly values to drive their decision-making and home life. This problem--and its solution--begins with the husband. If he will commit to taking on the burden of the family's finances, to providing for his home though it may cost him much, then he sets his family up to flourish. If he gives them a vision of life together that is not driven and dictated by the culture and its ideals, but a biblical vision that prizes the principles of God's Word as they relate to the home, then he charts for them a course of great blessing. With his family, he may know times of great hardship and trial. He will have difficult nights, and sleepless days. He will see others entertaining themselves more and exhausting themselves less, and he may even question the wisdom of his path. But he will turn over and over to God's Word and its vision for masculine leadership and provision, and he will know, if only by the mustard seed of faith, that if it must be, a trailer park is not only enough--it is just right.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Becoming a Research Assistant: Or, How to Best Pursue Your Dreams of Assistantship-Based Glory

I've done a number of internship and worked as a research assistant a few times in my young life. In fact, I've gone so far as to label myself a "career intern" due to my completion of no less than five internships to this point in my life. In the course of my glorious and seemingly unending intern career, I have gotten the following question a number of times: what does one do to get such opportunities? I thought that I might take a stab at this question in hopes of passing on a few words to those who seek evangelical assistantships and the accoutrements--jacuzzis, BMWs, and global renown--they provide.

In all seriousness, I count myself quite undeserving of the opportunities I have had to study under godly, gifted men in preparation for pastoral and academic ministry. The Lord has blessed me richly by giving me opportunities to study under men like Mark Dever and Al Mohler. How, then, did I get such opportunities? The quick and easy answer is that there is no easy answer. As with every blessing that you and I receive, the Lord decides in His will when to give us gifts. I didn't figure out a magic formula by which to fit certain positions into my life. I simply lived the Christian life and, as we all do in different days, experienced the Lord's kindness in many ways.

With that said--and it must be said--young men who desire training under godly, gifted men in preparation for a life of sacrificial, self-denying service for the Kingdom can do a few things to win such opportunities. Here are a number I've thought of, though I state them without any pretense to systematic or definitive thought and without any belief that I have practiced these points with great success. Take these as humble thoughts from one young man to others.

1. Pursue godliness: Strive first and foremost to be a godly man. Do not strive to be a famous or successful or well-known man. Strive to be holy, to live in a way that glorifies Christ, and to do what will honor Him with your life. If you determine that you are called to some form of future leadership that will be enriched by training under a godly, gifted man, then pursue research assistantships (or internships, or whatever they may be). But don't pursue them for your own glory. Mark this first point carefully. Many men do not, and you can spot them. They are the ones who don't care a great deal about holiness, about God's mission in the earth, and about preparation for ministry. They care more about fame, reputation, and success. If you are interested in training opportunities for these reasons, please, repent. After you learn in the context of a local church how to pursue things rightly, then consider pursuing ministry opportunities. But don't start out doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

2. Work hard: If you and others around you perceive that you are called to leadership of the church of some sort, then work very diligently in all that is before you. Don't seek the rewards of labor without engaging in the labor itself. By this I mean that ambitious young men should tax themselves to sharpen their minds and hearts for the glory of God. Men who need assistants and interns aren't looking for sycophants to tell them how great they are, they aren't looking for staff who are interested in basking in their reflected glory, and they aren't looking for lazy stair-steppers who are zealous only to climb the next step. Such men are looking for workers who can make a meaningful contribution to their scholarship and ministry. If you want to work under them, then, work very hard to make your mind and your spirit useful to such a man. Take hard classes, participate in ministry, speak up in class, get to know other action-oriented guys, and pray that you'll work well and humbly in all that you do. I've come into contact with many guys who think one's resume is shaped by one's connections. This is true to a degree, but the most important earthly factor is being a person who others would refer and who leaders can use in their work for the Lord. The men I've worked for prized the ability to think critically, to think quickly at times, to anticipate needs and requests, to bring a level of knowledge to one's work, and to work with a spirit of zest and energy. Cultivate these qualities as you seek opportunities.

3. Practice humility: This is a subset of point one, admittedly, but it is so important as to bear stating. The Bible teaches us clearly that the Lord blesses the humble. Above all, pursue humility in your walk with Christ. Do not seek to glorify and exalt yourself. Seek to humbly serve the Lord and His church by the application of your gifts and abilities to a vocational calling. As you gain opportunities, speak little of them. Talk little about what you've been able to do and who you've worked under. Talk much about Christ and His kingdom. Concern yourself with what truly matters. It may be well and good to write articles, to pen books, to lead ministries, to work for evangelical dignitaries, or whatever else you may be able to do, but these things are not ends in themselves. They are merely channels by which you can send some glory to God. This is one of the hardest things to remember in life, but it is one of the most essential. Pursue humility.

4. Seek opportunities in alignment with your calling: Don't seek opportunities for their own sake. You might have snagged a killer internship, but what good will that do you if it has no bearing on your future life? Take care not to be jealous, then, of those who are getting opportunities that have little relation to what you want to do. (Take extra care not to be jealous of those who have the positions you seek, of course!) Focus on what your heart and your church members and friends tell you they perceive to be your calling. Don't chase glory. Chase preparation. If an internship under an unknown pastor will prepare you for ministry better than one under a big-name pastor, take the former. Remember, you're not seeking a slick resume. You're seeking a godly heart, a seasoned mind, an experienced hand at the vocation God seems to be directing you toward. Seek what will furnish you with these qualities.

There are a few thoughts for those who are seeking ministerial opportunities. There's much more that could be said, but I hope that this is at least minimally helpful. If I can leave you with just one thought, remember that you are not working for your own glory in this life, but the glory of God. Those who seek opportunities are often ambitious young men. There is nothing wrong with ambition in itself, as it can be directed to godly ends, but the execution of this matter makes all the difference in the world as to whether you end up a profitable, useful servant of the Lord or a self-centered, opportunistic, self-glorifying servant of your own ego. Be ambitious, then, but be ambitious for the Kingdom. That is a skill and a qualification that fits you not only for earthly work, but for a heavenly rest.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

NPR, Child's Play, and the Importance of the Imagination

A friend recently tipped me off to a great NPR article on the importance of child's play. Here's a key quotation on how child's play has changed in the last half-century:

"Instead of spending their time in autonomous shifting make-believe, children were supplied with ever more specific toys for play and predetermined scripts. Essentially, instead of playing pirate with a tree branch they played Star Wars with a toy light saber. Chudacoff calls this the commercialization and co-optation of child's play — a trend which begins to shrink the size of children's imaginative space."

Aside from the clearly unfortunate nature of this development from an "enriched life" standpoint, the loss of imaginative, undirected play has had quantifiably negative effects in the physiology of children. Here's a very telling quotation:

"A recent study replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn't stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena Bodrova at the National Institute for Early Education Research says, the results were very different.

"Today's 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today's 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago," Bodrova explains. "So the results were very sad.""

The loss of self-regulation is, perhaps surprisingly, intimately connected with the loss of spontaneous, child-directed play that nurtures the imagination. Thus, when one loses a connection with the imagination, and when one couples this loss with a permissive society, one is left with a generation of children who have little self-control and a host of corresponding personal problems. What, after all, is more integral to maturity than self-control?

I would encourage you to read the whole article--it's worth it, as it will stimulate much thought among Christians. If the studies mentioned in the piece are true, and they certainly seem to be, then we Christians will need to make sure that we reserve a substantial place in our child-raising for the cultivation of the imagination. Furthermore, we will need to make sure that we do so not primarily by placing toys with preprogrammed stories in the hands of our children, but by thrusting our children out the back door with the lively admonition to, well, "Play!" That is to say, articles like the one cited in this post only encourage us to do what many parents, following their common sense intuition, have been doing for many hundreds of years: encouraging kids to be kids. This is not to say that such parents do not push their children on to maturity and seek to develop them in spiritual and social terms such that they become God-fearing men and women capable of contributing to home, church, society, and the broader kingdom. No, they do. But good parents do so while realizing that the seasons of life are precious and that a key part of the season of childhood is the development and exercise of the imagination.

I am not yet a father. I cannot wait to be (and my wife, praise God, is fourteen weeks along!). I do not speak, then, as an authority, but as one who was blessed to be raised in a home where the imagination was not simply tolerated but was stimulated and allowed to develop. To this day, one of my favorite things to do is to engage in creative exercise through basketball games. I may not invent tales of knightly heroism or dashing rescue anymore, but I do still allow my fun side to run wild, quite literally, on the court. That's a gift that my parents gave me--and that I hope many Christian parents will continue to give in days to come. What's at stake, after all, is not simply well-rounded children, but children who understand and delight in the gift of imagination and then go on to live self-controlled lives while glorying in the message of the Bible, the story that in its incredible genesis, action-packed body, and fantastic resolution crests all other tales in majesty and truth.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

The Week-est Link, February 22, 2008: Mohler, Carson, and One Powerful Song

1. Andy Naselli, a friend from TEDS and PhD student in New Testament (and D. A. Carson's research guy) blogs about the online history of Southern Seminary that I worked on a few years back. I'm linking to it here because Andy lays out the site's content in a really helpful way. If you've never looked at the site, I encourage you to--a number of us worked hard on the site to make it excellent. The seminary archivist, Jason Fowler, a personal friend, did terrific work in pulling it together, writing some content, and finding great photos for the various content pages.

2. This is a great article on how children's play has changed in the last few decades. The aforementioned Andy Naselli passed it on to me by email. Pretty depressing. I'm thankful that my parents strongly limited the amount of tv that my sister and I could watch. We were forced to use our imaginations, and we did. Some of my fondest memories from childhood are simple times in the backyard. How many kids--and Christian kids, shockingly--will never develop such memories?

3. Great Collin Hansen piece on the new book by New Testament scholars D. A. Carson and Greg Beale on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. There is such confusion on this subject. I attempt on my own little corner to push for healthy, full-canon biblical exegesis, but I am just a little fish--a minnow, perhaps. It's great to see a couple of sharks publish some meaty stuff on this important topic. Collin is also a TEDS student and is one of the best young writers around--make sure to get his new book when it comes out.

4. Future historian of eminence Matthew Hall blogs thoughtfully as ever about new studies in Mormonism. I'll have to think more about this before I comment, but it is interesting to observe the mainstreaming of Mormonism.

5. Al Mohler on a recent report of America's most sinful cities. His comments: "In reality, the whole world is a Genesis 3 world -- a fallen world inhabited by sinners. Sin is a universal problem and every single human being is a sinner. Put sinful humanity in close quarters, and sin inevitably multiplies." So true. It's fun to think about the morality of towns versus cities. Maybe a post for another day.

6. If you want to be edified and lifted up, you need to get this cd and listen to the song "Oh Lord Your Love." It is stirring and inspiring, and it never fails to direct my thoughts to the hope and joy that I have in Jesus Christ because of His death and resurrection on behalf of his church. Great work by Caedmon's Call.

Have a great weekend, all.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

How Does a Christian Deal with the Obama Phenomenon?

I've become aware in recent days that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is drawing a fair amount of interest and perhaps even support from evangelical Christians. This topic interests me not because I am concerned about Christians supporting a Democratic candidate but because Barack Obama is one of the most pro-abortion candidates for the nation's highest office that we've ever seen.

This last statement draws us into a question that I've heard debated a good deal in the last few years, the matter of single-issue voting. Some Christians say that it is right to vote for candidates based on one major issue (or perhaps a few) while others decry this sort of mindset, painting it as narrow-minded and undeveloped. I can understand the critique of this second group. Many who make it are, I think, reacting to a troublesome tendency evinced by many of us to not think solidly, soundly, and roundedly about things. That is to say, we get stuck on our biases, on our natural bent(s), and never advance past them. We become so anchored in historic truths and positions that we fail to consider current trends of thought and legitimate issues being raised in the current day. Today, for example, we would put in this class things like global warming and care for the poor. Sadly, I think that many conservative evangelicals like myself fail to give adequate attention to these matters. Because we so concentrate on matters like abortion and euthanasia, matters of life and death, we have a tendency to automatically write off other less-pressing matters simply because, well, they're less pressing. Though we are to be commended for prioritizing matters of life and death, we are to be chided for making the mistake of converting issues of less importance into issues of negligible importance.

What does all this have to do with Barack Obama and his presidential campaign? Well, I think that many Christians are drawn, as many people are, to Obama by virtue of his youth, his eloquence, his "coolness", his purportedly fresh-thinking manner. I can understand some of this interest, though I am not as charmed by Obama as some. I am concerned, though, when I hear that fellow Christians are not simply impressed by Obama but won over by him. That is to say, I am distressed when I hear that Obama is gaining support among conservative Christians. Remember that Obama is pro-choice, and not just pro-choice, but ardently so. (See here for more on this matter.) On a matter like abortion, we are not being small-minded when we prioritize it. We are being logical. Matters of life-and-death must take priority in our political philosophy. However much we may be charmed by a candidate's native gifts or his perceived ability to unite people, we must evaluate him by his positions, and his positions on the most important matters must take intellectual precedence. It is no bad thing to want a candidate who cares for the environment or the poor--we would hope for such candidates!--but it is only biblical to first and foremost desire a candidate who will actively work to stop the slaughter of millions of babies.

In adopting such a mindset, we may well draw derision from some as "narrow-minded" or "intellectually unsophisticated." We will need to work to show such folks that we are in fact thoughtful. Accordingly, we should not merely bite back, and we should show them the reasons biblically for our thinking. However, ultimately, if it is our fate to be labeled such, we must accept this fate. We must stand for the truth on matters of life and death. We must not allow fear of intellectual sophisticates to drive our decision-making. Much as we may admire aspects of Obama's person, we must oppose his program, and thus actively oppose his campaign. Though he has a great smile, and a charming manner, he is a pro-death candidate. We may well draw sneers for saying this, and standing for it, but this is the price we pay for standing for truth in a fallen world. May we not be so charmed by talent, or so afraid of opprobrium, that we will not stand for truth--and life.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

One of the Most Helpful Posts on Guidance I've Read: Dever on Subjectivism

Update on 2/21/08: Apparently I linked to the wrong blog yesterday. Thankfully, Mark Dever caught my error and corrected it, as you can see in the comments. I'm pretty sure that this is the first time he's ever seen this blog, so I'll have to err more often.

I came across a very helpful little piece on guidance today. It's by Mark Dever and it can be found at the Together for the Gospel blog." (HT: Justin Taylor) The post is titled "The Bondage of "Guidance" and it is well worth the five minutes it takes to read it. Here's a helpful excerpt from it:

"I do believe that God's Spirit will sometimes lead us subjectively. So, for instance, I am choosing to spend my life here on Capitol Hill because my wife & I sensed in 1993 that that is what God wanted us to do. However, I realized then (and now) that I could be wrong about that supposition. Scripture is NEVER wrong. I was free in 1993 to stay in England, or teach at a seminary, either of which would have been delightful opportunities. I understand that I was free to make those choices. But I chose, consulting Scripture, friends, wisdom, and my own subjective sense of the Lord's will, to come to DC. And even if I were wrong about that, I had (and have) that freedom in Christ to act in a way that is not sin. And I understand my pastoring here not to be sin. So I am free. Regardless of the sense of leading I had."

And here's another:

"A subjective sense of leading--when we've asked for it (as in James 1:5 we ask for wisdom) and when God freely gives it--is wonderful. The desire for such a subjective sense of leading, however, is too often, in contemporary evangelical piety, binding our brothers and sisters in Christ, paralyzing them from enjoying the good choices that God may provide, and causing them to wait wrongly before acting."

This is great stuff. I've encountered a good many Christians who are genuinely confused about this question. In fact, I've been one of those Christians (and still am, sometimes). Those of us who tie ourselves up in knots over the issue of discovering God's will go beyond the Scripture, I think. That is to say, the Bible does not expect us, I think, to perfectly know God's will for every decision we make in our lives. It is no bad desire to want such leading--in fact, I think it shows a healthy respect for the sovereign will of God as applied to our lives--but the Bible does not prescribe any sort of process by which we may automatically discern what it is that God wants for us. We are to pray, clearly, and we are to take counsel, and search the Word, and use wisdom conformed to biblical thought patterns, but beyond these things, as Dever writes, we are free to make what we believe to be the godly choice. This is a strange concept for some of us, this idea of freedom, but we must remember that this is a gift that Christ has graciously given to us. We must remind ourselves of the scriptural truth that the blood of Christ has not subjected to us a decisional bondage, but liberated us to live freely and joyfully under the reign of Christ. Hopefully, we'll be able to remember this truth as we live, and so free ourselves from a paralysis of will that, however well-intended, ultimately loses sight of the Christ-given gift of freedom.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Announcing a New Student Journal at Southern Seminary

This is a week of announcements so far. Today I'm really excited to share with you news of a new student journal at Southern Seminary. The journal is called Adorare Mente (Latin "to worship with the mind") and there is a website that accompanies it. The website was recently created and it's as fresh as it is clean. I'm very happy to be a part of the student editorial team, and we'll be publishing our first issue very soon.

Here's the blurb from the website:

"Adorare Mente is a theological journal produced by students of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. If you would like to find out more about us, check out some of the links to the left.

The current deadline for submissions is February 28, 2008. See the Submission Guidelines for more information about how to submit an article. The first issue of the journal is planned for release this spring.

The hope of the editorial board is that this journal would serve as an exercise to help us all advance the kingdom by thinking deeply and faithfully about the truth. To this end we dedicate ourselves."

If you are an SBTS student, please think about submitting a paper. You don't have much time, but here's a great chance to publish a paper early in your ministerial career. Best of all, you can publish it in a journal that is committed not to austere scholasticism, but to a Christian scholarship that breathes and that pulses with a heart for the Lord. Send your submissions to


Monday, February 18, 2008

Registration is Open for the Band of Bloggers Event in April 2008

I'm pleased to make this announcement on behalf of the Band of Bloggers event to be held in April on the day the Together for the Gospel (T4G) convention begins: Tuesday, April 15, 2008, from 11:30am-1:30pm. This event will be concluded before the first session of T4G, which begins at 2:30. Below is information about the conference written by event founder Timmy Brister which I've taken directly from the Band of Bloggers blog, which I encourage you to check out.

2008 Band of Bloggers
“The Gospel Trust”
Tuesday, April 15, 2008 :: (11:30 - 1:30)
The Galt House (Louisville, KY)
Tim Challies, Justin Taylor, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Mark Lauterbach

"After a long process of working out the details, the 2008 Band of Bloggers fellowship is open for registration! The window of registration will be from February 18-March 31, 2008 (a total of six weeks). So be sure to help us get the word out to all the bloggers attending T4G this year.

A few things to note:

1. $15 for Registration

The Galt House (where the T4G conference was held in 2006) has agreed to host this year’s meeting and will be catering the attendees with a boxed lunch. Those of you who have been around downtown Louisville know how difficult it is to find a place to eat, moreover, a place that is affordable. We are committed to making the cost as affordable as possible, but given that we are working with no budget or any outside financial support, a small registration fee is required. Included in this cost is lunch and other treats TBA. If you plan to attend and cannot afford the $15, please email us at

2. Limited Capacity

The current conference room will allow us to seat approximately 150 people. Therefore, it is important that you register early. If perchance, we exceed this capacity in short order, we will pursue the possibility of a larger meeting room. We would like to make this open to as many as possible, so please do not procrastinate in signing up!

3. Location, Directions, and Time

The Galt House is located just one block away from the Kentucky Convention Center and can be accessed indoors (less than a five minute walk). For those traveling from the airport, I have created a Google Map and have pin-pointed the locations for both the Galt House and Convention Center. For those of you concerned that you will miss the first session of T4G, it does not begin until 2:30, and Band of Bloggers is scheduled to end at 1:30 p.m. that afternoon.

The purpose of this event is to provide all attending bloggers of the 2008 Together for the Gospel conference an opportunity to meet, fellowship, and engage in a fruitful, gospel-centered discussion with some of the leading bloggers today. It is our desire that you to be refreshed personally, connected corporately, and fueled Christocentricly. May the Lord use this time to burn in our hearts a love for the gospel and for one another."

If the conference panelists do not show up, I may give a lecture on one of the following topics:
  • "Successfully Starting a Blog to Be Read By Your Parents, Best Friend, and the Occasional Total Stranger"
  • "Elite Marketing for Bloggers with Readership Below Twenty People"
  • "Lessons in Insignificance: A Multi-Part Lecture on How To Pontificate as if Someone Is Actually Reading Your Blog"
  • "Understanding Demographics: How to Attract the Coveted "Totally Random Search" Group to Your Blog, and How to Convince Them to Stay Once They've Realized Their Error"
  • "Magic & Light: Or, Writing Blogs on Days When You Have Nothing to Say and No One's Going to Read it Anyway"
  • "How I Successfully Doubled My Readership"--or, "How to Take Your Readership Past the Dreaded Twenty-Person Mark in Just Under Two and a Half Years"
So there you go. You better hope those panelists show up, eh?

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Friday, February 15, 2008

The Week-est Link, February 15, 2008

1. Karis Community Church recently hosted New Testament scholar Tom Schreiner for a series of lectures on Jesus. Check out this link to listen to the talks. They sound quite interesting and personally profitable. Dr. Schreiner is a man of great gifting and great humility. It's rare to find those qualities mutually existing in one person, but they do in him.

2. Newsweek Magazine recently profiled Manhattan pastor and church planting guru Tim Keller. Go here to read the article. The author gets a number of things wrong, but it's interesting that this piece represents a pretty respectful portrayal of an evangelical. Keller's thoughtfulness and humility have sowed good seed in New York.

3. Criswell College radio host Jerry Johnson recently discussed my friend Greg Gilbert's recent 9Marks blog/manifesto on an overemphasis on good music in the current among many evangelicals. Here's the link. I would have liked to hear Greg say a few more words about the importance of evangelical pursuit of good music, but I think he makes some very good points in his original post on the 9Marks blog. It's important in correcting things, though, that we take care not to over-correct. Greg wouldn't want to do that, and neither would I.

4. Speaking of good music, here's a great track by one of my favorite bands, Postal Service, called "Clark Gable." It's a beautiful mix of male and female voices, and it has a melancholy feel that is accentuated by the driving beat. Good tune.

Have a very nice weekend, all.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Reflecting on Marriage on a Meaningful Day

You know, sometimes we're so saturated by what the culture says about love, sex and romance that we cannot hear--or remember--what God teaches us about these things. That is to say, I sometimes catch myself thinking defensively, unconsciously defending my decision to marry at a young age rather than live a life of self-gratification and hedonistic pleasure. In such moments, my thinking is exactly backward.

The reality is that marriage is an incredible institution. Don't get me wrong, I'm no pro at it. I'm a year and a half into my marriage to the lovely Bethany, and I am the first to tell you that I don't have everything figured out. I just don't. For example, I am a complete novice when it comes to determining when to give my wife her gifts. This morning, for example, I set out her Valentine's Day gift beside some fresh flowers. From her reaction, I could tell that, while she was quite gratified to see that I, a clueless guy, had made a monetary purchase on her behalf, she also was slightly dismayed by (admittedly) strange timing in delivering my gift to her. It was the middle of the morning, she was bustling about, and it was not really the time for the delivery of said monetary purchase. I quickly retracted the gift without a word, a sign that though I am a clueless guy, I am not as clueless as I used to be. In the past, after all, I would have asked her why the timing was wrong, thus successfully spoiling the moment in its entirety.

This is a lighthearted example of my novice husband status, of course. I am a sinner, and Bethany sees that on a daily basis. We can both testify that I have clay feet as a man. And yet even with this stated, our marriage is so good, so happy, so transcendently meaningful. We are not simply Owen and Bethany Strachan, married couple. We are a united pair, a visible display of the reality of the biblical gospel in a broken world. This is a beautiful--and meaningful--thing. This is a holy thing. Marriage is no loser's trophy in this world. It is the best thing going. This is not what our secular culture tells us. In the current day, marriage is demeaned, ridiculed, or perhaps worst of all, ignored. Secular singleness-characterized by a narcissistic, self-exalting, self-gratifying way of life--dominates in the current day. And yet we who are married laugh as we are laughed at. We know what it is to come home to someone day after day. We know what it is to be in a lifelong covenant with another person. Just think about it--compare such a state to even the best cohabiting relationship, where either person can check out at any moment. Go beyond the basic reality of commitment to the daily experience of marriage. In happy, God-centered marriages, the couple does not simply live together in the bond of covenant, but they regularly express love for one another. They do things that communicate care and affection for the other person. They don't do this for a week or a month or a year--they do it for a lifetime. The sum total of all these expressions of love is gigantic. It is an incredible thing, this business of being loved tenaciously and devotedly by another person for all of life. I've only experienced it for a year and a half, and I can say that I have experienced far, far more goodness than even the most successful pickup artist, the most prolific hook-up king. I don't say this with boasting or arrogance. My experience is, among happily married God-glorifying couples, quite normal. We live lives in which our spouse regularly showers us with love. To think that a one-night stand, a chain of one-night stands, or a lifetime of one-night stands compares to this is to commit intellectual blasphemy, and to tragically delude oneself.

This is a very simple reflection on marriage. One could say so much more about it. But then, there's a sense in which one doesn't need to. The couple that loves one another is blessed beyond their imagining. To bring this home, I think of my grandparents' relationship. My grandfather, Daniel Dustin, loved his wife, Rachel Dustin, for over 60 years. There was some struggle in those years--there were some fights and a good deal of sins and things that one doesn't desire to talk about much. But there was such good, such tremendous good, in those sixty plus years of life together. There were so many tangible expressions of kindness, so many words of affirmation and encouragement, so many difficulties negotiated through the power of a bonded love. In sum, my grandparents created a beautiful life together. I compare them with a man who had great success in attracting girls to sleep with him. Some Hollywood actors, for example, are reputed to have slept with thousands of women. But what do they sit and think about as they prepare for death in old age? What tangible expressions can they recall? What difficulties were overcome through the sheer force of love? What legacy of committed happiness can they point to? What offspring are around to remind them of a love that endured over many decades? The answer is that such a man has little, precious little, that is truly meaningful to remember. Marriage--God-glorifying, Christ-centered marriage--is not alluring or mysterious. It is not flashy or fancy. It is simple, it is humble, and it is, in a way that utterly opposes secular singleness, transcendent. Here's one man's attempt, then, to give thanks for that which is humble, simple, and quite wonderful.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thinking Theologically: Al Mohler's "Culture Shift"

First thing--thanks to the two commenters who broke my comment-less streak yesterday. Phew.

Second thing--I am woefully behind in telling my loyal readership about an important new book by my former boss, Dr. Albert Mohler. Dr. Mohler has just published the book Culture Shift, a collection of essays on a variety of subjects related to the condition of modern culture and the recovery of a biblical worldview in the midst of our paganized times. I have read almost all of these essays, and many, many more of Dr. Mohler's writings, and I can testify that he is without exception the most helpful Christian thinker out there today on matters of Christian cultural engagement. There's no exception to this statement; Dr. Mohler is the best worldview writer today. I am very excited at the prospect of more Mohler writings. As one who worked for him, I would encourage people to pray for Dr. Mohler that he'll be able to put his many and deep thoughts to paper. He is a taxed man, perhaps the most busy man I've ever seen (though he also simply cannot refuse a request to think and write, a problematic but understandable tendency), and it would be a great service to the church to have more of Dr. Mohler's thoughts in print.

I've written about him before, and I won't go into any length here, but I want to encourage you to buy this book. You'll benefit from it and learn to think theologically as you read it. It's not expensive, and it won't take you long to read, and the essays are each fairly short. As you read the book, you'll also meet some of the man. That's a good thing. I miss Dr. Mohler, and probably always will, but I'm thankful that you and I have the opportunity from a godly, gifted, culturally attuned man like him.

Here are some resources related to the book:
Go over to Amazon, order up a copy of Culture Shift, and prepare to be trained in theological thinking by one of the masters.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Get to Know a Puritan: The Puritan Reading Challenge

I have been meaning to tell readers of this blog about a great program going on over at my friend Timmy Brister's blog, Provocations & Pantings. Timmy is an MDiv student at Southern Seminary with a great passion for church health, evangelism, and the glorification of God. He's a good friend and an encouragement to me. His program is called the Puritan Reading Challenge. Basically, Timmy has come up with the idea of reading one paperback by one Puritan each month of this year. He's invited people to join with him in reading the paperback and in discussing the work together. He's got the whole thing worked out so that those who participate in the Challenge receive a massive discount from a couple of booksellers. He's also got interviews with men like Mark Dever on the Puritans. I highly encourage you to check the Challenge out over at Timmy's blog.

I'm excited about this program because it is designed to acquaint people with the Puritans, authors of a treasure trove of literature that is largely undiscovered in many Christian circles today. The Puritans have a wide variety of reputations, with some saying that they're detached prudes, others saying that they're legalist doctrinaires, but in the end, they were godly people who lived with a big view of their Lord and who sought to honor Him on a daily basis. They were not perfect, but they did have a healthy view of God, man, and the Christian life, and for this reason I would encourage most anyone to pick up a Puritan paperback and read it. The books in Timmy's series aren't that long, and they're full of rich doctrinal meditation and searching practical application.

I'll close with the blurb from the Challenge project blog, answering why one should study the Puritans:

First, the Puritans had a relentless pursuit of God. In their writings you will find believers who knew their God deeply through a rich God-centeredness that affected every area of their lives. We are living in a day where it is hard to find folks who know their God well. Second, the Puritans were physicians of souls. These men studied themselves and had a real, experimental knowledge of Christianity. Nowhere will you find more “uses” and applications for your life than in their writings. Not only did they know God well, they knew the minds, hearts, and consciences of men well. Third, the Puritans possessed genuine piety because they knew how to fight the fight of faith. These men took direct aim at indwelling sin and fought hard for their personal sanctification. Their writings are incredibly pastoral and at the same time intimately convicting. Fourth, the Puritans were pacesetters in church history. They ran in such a way to win, and whether it is their study of Scripture, commitment to family worship, personal devotion to prayer, or caring for the souls in their community, these men ran and ran hard. Fifthly, reading the Puritans will provide you a healthy perspective so as to prevent chronological snobbery. Let’s face it. It is tempting to read only what is novel, trendy, and popular. Yet it is worthwhile to read books 100 years or older to understand how Christians lived, face struggles, dealt with issues (doctrinal, ecclesiological, ethical, etc.), and experienced God. Frankly speaking, you will not find anything close to Owen, Watson, Brooks, and Baxter on the front shelves of your local bookstore.

If you're interested, leave a comment for Timmy at his blog and he'll get back to you with more info.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

The Seasons of a Seminarian: Beginning, Middle, and End

I mentioned last week an overview series I just did on seminary at the SBTS metablog, Said at Southern. I want to link to all three of these pieces here in order to let you know about them. I don't think that they are anything amazing, but I do think that you could give them to a seminarian or a potential seminarian and that they could possibly benefit from reading my reflection on my time at Southern. Or, if you simply want a look at what seminary is like, you might find these posts interesting. I tried to make them both general and specific; general, because I tried to capture some of the essence of seminary regardless of school, and specific, because I was a particular seminarian at a particular place and time.

I would love for these pieces to be a helpful resource, though I'm happy for them also to be an (hopefully) engaging story. I've intended for seminarians attending a wide variety of schools to be able to read these articles and resonate with them.

Here, then, are the links:

Seasons of a Seminarian: Beginning
Seasons of a Seminarian: Middle
Seasons of a Seminarian: End

Feel free to forward them, link to them, or whatever.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

The Week-est Link, February 8, 2008

1. I have to confess, I'm a little surprised that Mitt Romney dropped out of the race for President yesterday. I thought that he had a change to take the Republican nomination, and I wasn't opposed to that happening. Now it looks like McCain will get the nod (or, already has gotten it, sort of). I'm not terribly excited about this (shades of Bob Dole, anyone?), but McCain should draw moderates, and that should help him if Hillary wins the Democratic bid.

2. A treasure trove of Tim Keller sermons. If you have some free time, take a couple of hours and listen to as much Keller as you can. He is textually insightful, eminently interesting to listen to, and culturally aware. There are few preachers out today who are more interesting and edifying to listen to. (HT: Justin Taylor)

3. This post by CJ Mahaney covers the Super Bowl, but it represents a great resource for men struggling to keep sports in proper perspective. After a number of years in a community dominated by men, I can readily say that this is one of the primary struggles of young men today. We live in a sports-saturated society, and many of us struggle to keep sports in the category of "hobby" or "occasional pastime," instead situating them in "almost-constant diversion." Read CJ and be informed, instructed, and edified. He is a great example of a normal Christian person who nonetheless thinks theologically about everything. I love that. (HT: Josh Harris)

4. More material on thinking theologically about sports. Why is it the Covenant Life guys (from Maryland) are the only ones doing this? Why do so many Christians write about the same things, things that people know something about, and neglect the things that people struggle hugely with? There's a massive imbalance in our contemporary literature--it's far too skewed to theological rehearsal and out of touch with the issues many Christians struggle with, things like sports. I seek to address this imbalance on this humble little blog, and I'm glad others are doing the same. We need more! (HT: Sovereign Grace)

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and the Catholic Church: Strange (but Happy?) Bedfellows

I became Catholic because of Dorothy Day and Flannery O’Connor.

Thus begins "Becoming Catholic," a personal essay written by Sarah Vanacore in a recent InterVarsity email newsletter. Vanacore, a grant writer and resident of an inner-city religious community, writes her story to share the reasons she left evangelicalism and embraced Catholicism. I want to briefly analyze her article and its placement in the IVCF newsletter. In doing so, I'm not throwing stones at Sarah Vanacore. I am writing out of concern for the direction of InterVarsity, a group I was involved with for four years as a student at Bowdoin College. IVCF seems increasingly cozy with Catholicism, and I am very concerned by this.

I want to make this post as concise as possible. I'm going to excerpt the most important parts of this piece. Here, then, are the reasons Vanacore became disenchanted with evangelicalism:

"By the time I entered college, I was disenchanted with the Christianity that I knew, with the rampant individualism that seemed to leave no room for the communal aspects of the Christian faith; with the reduction of things like Communion and baptism to symbols; with the splintering of the Protestant churches that I knew; and with the over-spiritualization of Jesus’ words."

Here is what specifically attracted Vanacore to Catholicism:

"Then I started reading Flannery O’Connor. I was attracted to O’Connor’s vivid, stark imagery that contrasted completely with the schmaltz with which I’d stocked the shelves at my high school job at a Christian bookstore. And I loved Dorothy Day’s commitment to the poor, to social justice, and to hospitality. I was spending most of my Saturdays hanging out with the Philadelphian homeless, and I was convinced that to be Christian, one must not just care about the poor, but know them as well.

So the Southern gothic writer and the fiery co-founder of the Catholic Worker drew me in. At the same time, I found that some of my friends were on the same journey toward Catholicism, and they encouraged me to look more closely at what I believed. What I found most compelling was the Eucharist: that the bread and wine were not simply symbolic of Christ’s body and blood but actually became them. On top of that, I loved the liturgy; far from stifling my faith, I found the liturgy gave it its full expression while still allowing for cultural and musical differences."

Here is Vanacore's current position:

"I live now in an intentional community, which in itself is a study in denominational reconciliation: we have Catholics (both cradle and converts), Mennonites, and some post-evangelicals who haven’t quite felt at home anywhere. I do believe that Catholics and Protestants can work together, that we can reconcile and stand together on our core beliefs. I believe we must, in order to cause any sort of change in this world."

Let us now examine these statements. Looking first at the reasons for Vanacore's disenchantment, one can understand them. Evangelical Christianity can definitely be much too individualistic, the ordinances of Christ can easily become rudimentary and unimportant to us, and Christians can certainly unnecessarily divide over silly things. All of these weaknesses can and do happen. Now let's consider Vanacore's reasons for embracing Catholicism. She writes that evangelical literature left her cold and that she loved the commitment of certain Catholics to helping the poor. Many evangelicals I know would resonate with these sentiments. So far, Vanacore's reasons don't seem to be deep doctrinal quandaries, but rather personal frustrations that many evangelicals share. These are the not the matter of which a departure from evangelicalism--from true, biblical Christianity--should be made.

From there, Vanacore does register a few doctrinal discrepancies with evangelicalism: she likes the Catholic view of the Lord's supper and she likes the liturgy. At the end of her article, she indicates that she wants to be a part of a movement of change. That, then, comprises her reasons for her departure from evangelicalism. Now that we've laid these things out, let's analyze them a little closer.

As I've noted, I think it entirely understandable that an evangelical grow dissatisfied with church splits and cheesy Christian books. I also think it's understandable to be frustrated with poor conceptions of key scriptural doctrines, like the Lord's supper, or with shallow, me-centered, poorly executed congregational music. All of these frustrations, however, do not in any way merit an embrace of Rome and its teaching. Evangelicals all across the country have reacted to the frustrations Vanacore posits by digging into their local churches and by seeking to change them for the better. There's a whole movement of young evangelicals, called the emerging church, which addresses many of the concerns Vanacore registers. One need not smile brightly at the prospect of reading schmaltzy Christian books to be a biblical Christian. Beyond this, though, I'm concerned by the worldview that seems to fuel Vanacore's decisions. She seems to understand faith as a pick-and-choose proposition in which, if one does not like certain aspects of a given religion, one is eminently justified in simply switching teams, as it were. Though it does not appear in this garb--no, it comes in the garb of "seeking ancient, authentic faith" or something like that--it's really just postmodernism with a good dash of American consumerism thrown in. If you don't like the Christian faith, just leave it. Don't do any deep doctrinal searching, don't have extensive theological discussion about the matters of disagreement between Catholics and Protestants, no, simply switch your flag. This is very poor--and very dangerous--worldview thinking. It treats the Bible as a malleable book one may read with self-directed glasses. At no place does Vanacore quote Scripture or reveal any deep doctrinal thinking about her decision. She simply posits what she didn't like about Christianity, notes what she liked about Catholicism, and seems to expect us to commend her--or at least, understand her--for her choice. I, for one, do not; I, for one, cannot. I tremble for her, because the Catholic Church does not teach the biblical truth on salvation, it teaches a false gospel.

One does not simply switch religions because one likes a certain musical style or bookseller list better. One does not simply observe which religion is most doing what one perceives religions should do and then take up that faith. One carefully studies the Bible, the Word of God, to see what God wants, to see what God teaches, and then carefully discerns which religion most fits that vision. Yet nowhere in this article do we have any sort of careful study noted. This really concerns me about IVCF. They have published this article. Why? It does not promote good worldview thinking, it does not show a concern for what God, not man, wants, and it tacitly--no, explicitly!--encourages evangelicals to rethink their commitment to evangelical Christianity based on their personal religious preferences. This is very troubling. This article suffers from a deficient understanding of Scripture, of evangelical Christianity, of current movements among evangelical Christians, and of man. We do not choose our religion based on what we like the most. We seek to discern what God wants and teaches, and we humbly, obediently, even fearfully conform to His will. I'd love to read Flannery O'Connor, and I hope to take Vanacore up on that proposition, and I'd love to develop a greater heart for the poor, but I fundamentally want to know what it is that God requires of me and then do that. That, and not any personal preference, is what must drive my thinking, my decisions, my very life.

Let us pray for IVCF and students like Sara who it seems to be influencing in a way of grave danger.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Seeking Calm in Storms: Pray for Union University in Jackson, Tennessee

I don't know if you've heard this or not, but a major tornado ripped through parts of the South last night. The school my sister-in-law attends, Union University, was hit very hard by these storms. CNN actually covered the wreckage and interviewed students and the President of the school, David Dockery. I would encourage you to watch the video and to pray for the school and its students, staff, faculty members and mission. Union is a Southern Baptist school, and it is known for melding strong academics with a zealous heart for God and His glory expressed in all the earth. It has many students like my sister-in-law, Rachel, who exude a joyful faith desirous of application to the hurt and despair of the world.

Whether or not you are a Southern Baptist, I encourage you to remember this Christian school as it attempts to rebuild. Apparently, fewer than 100 cars out of 1100 emerged unscathed from the tornado. A number of dormitories and buildings are in shambles. But most importantly, a good number of students are injured. Miraculously, it appears that none were killed. Please join me in praying for these students as they heal. Also, let's pray that this tragic event will result in a greater connection between Union and its community, and that this connection will yield many opportunities to share the gospel and praise the Lord in the midst of great trial. This is a disaster, but it is more than that--it is a missiological opportunity, and I pray that Union folks will seize it.

There are many others who I know and care for who are related to Union in some way. Many of the SBTS faculty send their children to this college. Several of my friends, including Matthew Crawford, who has guest-blogged for me, went to Union. Friends from DC and SBTS attend and work at this school. Here is hoping that in the midst of this great hardship, my brothers and sisters in the faith will cling to their hope, their strength, their calm in the midst of a physical and emotional storm.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Bruce Ware on Christ and a Spirit-Empowered Ministry

We are all blessed in many and different ways, but a personal joy for me is the fact that I have a theologian for a father-in-law. Deep question come up? Write an email. Theological incongruity emerge? Ask your in-law. Mysterious doctrine baffle the mind and heart? Pull up a chair after dinner. I don't often publicly mention how blessed I am to be the son-in-law of the humble, gifted, godly Bruce Ware, but I want to today. It is a privilege and a great help to me--I am so thankful for my father-in-law, for his ministry to church, academy, and world, and for his great personal kindness to his family. I don't deserve to be related to him, but I am honored to be so.

I say all this because my friend, "JV," (also known as Josh Vincent, a Florida pastor and SBTS grad) asked a great question in reference to my blog last week about the role of the Spirit in Christ's life prior to his anointing by the Spirit at His baptism. Here is JV's series of questions in full: "What are your thoughts on the presence of the Spirit with Jesus prior to his descending upon Jesus. Was Jesus without the Spirit prior to this? Also, do you think there is a qualitative or quantitative difference in the way that we have the Spirit or the communion enjoyed and that which Christ himself lived in?"

I found this a difficult and thoughtful question, and so wrote Dr. Ware for his thoughts on the matter, which I sought to present as he teaches (though if I made any errors, they are my own, not his). I present his answer here with his consent in hopes that it will help others as it has helped me to understand the relationship between Christ and the Spirit in Christ's lifetime. Here goes:

"Since the OT predicts, among other things, that the coming Messiah would have the Spirit upon him, the Spirit who would manifest in him understanding, wisdom, and the fear of the Lord (e.g., Isa 11:1-2), I take it that he would have had the Spirit from the very first instant of his life as the God-man. So, Luke 1:35 means, among other things, that when the Holy Spirit brought about the miraculous conception in Mary of this God-man, Jesus the Christ, the Spirit would have indwelt him from the instant he was conceived. A couple other reason for thinking so are: 1) if John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah, was filled with the Spirit while in his mother's womb (Luke 1:15, 41), wouldn't the Messiah even more so be filled from the start? 2) the reference in Luke 2:40 that Jesus grew in wisdom and that the grace of God was upon him is best understood, in my view, as a reference to the Spirit upon Jesus enabling him to have the wisdom and understanding that he had, even to the point of marvelling the teachers of the law at the temple as a 12 yr old boy (Luke 2:41-52).

So, what happened at his baptism? I understand this as a special and powerful anointing of the Spirit, much as the Spirit came upon prophets or judges or civil rulers in the Old Testament, and as he came upon Peter or other apostles even after Pentecost when they had already permanently and previously received the Spirit. Jesus' baptism marked the beginning of Jesus' public ministry wherein his teaching, miracles, resisting more severe temptations, etc, were all about to start. So, while Jesus was already indwelt with the Spirit from the moment of conception, the Spirit came upon him in a special way for the outward ministry to which he was embarking. Also, the public display of the Spirit coming on him as a dove was an empirical marker to others that he was none other than the Spirit-anointed Messiah (John 1:29-34).

All of this upholds the thrust of what you argued in your blog -- that Jesus lived his life in the power of the Spirit, and as such, he truly is an example for how we too are to live. As Packer has put it, "Jesus the Spirit-bearer became the Spirit-giver." The empowerment for his obedience and resistance of temptation is the empowerment given to his followers -- note: see the obvious and intended (I think) connection between Acts 1:8 about how we are enabled to fulfill God's mission, and the description of how Jesus lived his life in Acts 10:38. And so, yes, Jesus' first 30 years were also lived in the power of the Spirit, while his last years of ministry, teaching, cross, and resurrection evidenced even greater outpouring of Spirit-empowerment. Well, it is a great and glorious truth: we are to follow in his steps (1 Pet 2:21ff) and have the same attitude in ourselves that was in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5ff). This is only possible because the Spirit-indwelling and empowerment in us was the same that was in Jesus.

By the way, Sam Storms has also written about this recently (in the past month), and an excellent book on this subject is Gerald Hawthorne's The Presence and the Power."

There you have it--the words of a master theologian on a difficult but important topic. I hope that this information encourages you by helping you to realize the depth of access you have to the might of God, and that this realization fuels a life of courage, boldness, and humble dependence on the Spirit.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

New Series at Said at Southern: Seasons of a Seminarian, Part One

I'm itching to write a number of things this week, but I first want to tell you about a series of articles I'm writing at Said at Southern, the SBTS metablog, about seminary. If you've ever wanted a kind of overview of the seminary experience from a student's perspective, you might find this series interesting. It's nothing special, but in it, I do seek to tell the seminary "story" generally, though I do so from my own experience, mixing in my own anecdotes and memories. I think it does a reasonable job of recounting the average seminarian's experience. Though I tell it from my own personal history, one need not have gone to Southern to resonate with its ideas and happenings.

Here is a paragraph from the first part of the three-part series.

"We come to seminary from a wide range of backgrounds. Some have worked in campus ministry, some in local churches, some have been missionaries, some were accountants or lawyers or investment bankers in past times. This is part of what makes seminary a profitable experience: the wealth of diversity accrued to a campus that pursues a common goal, namely, training for the ministry of the gospel. I came to Southern after an action-packed year in Washington, DC, where I interned at Capitol Hill Baptist Church and the U. S. Department of State. Like many seminarians, I had thought it best to take a bit of time off from school following college graduation, as I was a bit weary of books and quizzes and papers and classes. After a year in “local church bootcamp” (I assure you, an affectionate moniker for the CHBC internship and church experience), I felt ready for the Christian academy. Like many prospective seminarians, I knew some theology and had read through the Bible, but I had little sense of the bigger picture behind it all. I wanted to really know the Bible, to be able to read it for myself in the original languages, and to learn the history, philosophy, and theology that it birthed. I was old enough to know a little, but young enough to be aware of the same. I was young and hungry, and seminary was the answer."

I'll have more on this series in days to come.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

The Week-est Link, February 1, 2008

1. Read the comment by Reid Monaghan from yesterday's post. Click on the comments at the bottom of the post. Great stuff.

2. Very interesting stuff about the cozy relationship between InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Catholicism. I am particularly concerned by this article on one evangelical's conversion to Catholicism, which appeared in the IVCF email newsletter. Why was this article featured in an evangelical newsletter? I pray with many others that IVCF will hew to a scripturally faithful path in the future and not compromise its evangelical witness on many college campuses. As a former IVCF leader, I am concerned about this matter, and hopeful that the gospel will not be muddled and confused by a desire for ecumenism. I may disagree with them on (very) significant theological matters, but I respect Catholics who practice a strong brand of their religion rather than a watered-down version. It bothers me when both sides of this question--whether evangelicals or Catholics--pretend as if significant theological disagreements do not exist between us. We have much in common, and there is much to admire about Catholicism's stance on key scriptural doctrines including social and theological ethics, but at the end of the day, we have two very different understandings of salvation. This makes all the difference. This is not to say that a Catholic cannot be born again, that some Catholics are not born again even as they attend a Catholic assembly, and that evangelicals and Catholics cannot be friends and cultural co-conspirators. I hope that we will be. (Update: I will be blogging on the above article on conversion to Catholicism next week.)

3. A fun post by Mike McKinley over at the 9Marks blog. We just had quite a week here in Deerfield. Mark Driscoll and Mark Dever were both in town, and Dever spoke at an Acts 29 event. For those who don't know what this means, it's significant, because Acts 29 and 9Marks (Dever's parachurch outfit) put forth pretty different models for ministry. It was great to see the two come together. Hopefully, they'll each pick up helpful material from the other. See also this post on the trip. I really appreciated Driscoll's Tuesday chapel address, which I've heard was a bit controversial in certain TEDS circles.

4. A very sad and beautiful song by Tracy Chapman. It's old (by current standards) but I could care less. I can listen to this all day. Trust me, I wouldn't put it up here if it wasn't worth five minutes of your time.

5. First Things also linked to a talk by Alvin Plantinga at my alma mater, Southern Seminary. Interesting that they would find this, though I guess Plantinga draws a crowd, for good reasons.

Have a nice weekend, all.

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